I have looked one of my biggest phobias in the face today and I wasn’t exactly happy about it.
A long time ago when I was around seven years old I went to see a dentist who, without warning, slapped a rubber mask on my face and I blacked out. I could hear sounds while I was under and I thought someone was cutting a rubber band close to my ear. To a young child that’s what a tooth being extracted under general anaesthic sounds like. Except it wasn’t one tooth it was twelve.
There began the long sequence of experiences that ended with me becoming dental phobic.
I had a tooth broken diagonally in an accident at school when we were playing rounders. It was probably the most painful experience of my life and I was left with a tooth that was unfilled and with a nerve exposed. It was agony.
When I was 15 I had the tooth extracted, again under a general anaesthetic, and had a denture fitted. Dentures are great these days but back then they were made less robustly and I broke it often.
I moved from my home town in 1986 and developed dental problems because if something is going to happen then it’s going to happen to me. I ended up with one side of my mouth filled with gold crown and it tuned out that that particular dentist was famous for it.
It seemed to me that all the decisions about my oral health bypassed me somehow. Dentists and dental nurses looked at x-rays then whispered in the corner of the room before subjecting me to treatment without telling me about it.
I moved to a different part of the city when I divorced (well almost divorced but that’s another story) and a Welsh dentist called Murphy decided on a line of treatment, again without consulting me.
I found myself in his chair having my top row of teeth drilled for so long I had to ask for a break to go to the loo. While I was there I looked in the mirror to see what he was doing that took so long and saw that what had been good teeth except for the missing one now resembled a mountain range.
I was having a bridge done he told me so I needed a set of crowns and that was that. Snide remarks about free treatment made me feel as though I’d been subject to a bizarre form of vivisection since I was seven years old.
All good until I was back in the part of the city I felt at home in and where I still live now. I went to the local dentist because I had toothache and ended up with root canal surgery in three teeth. That, not to put to fine a point on it, is fucking agony.
He called me a baby when I cried and I always come away from his surgery with a bruised face whatever he did. He was an ex-RAF dentist and I was one of the people who he considered had to be told what to do and do it without question.
Then my head blew up and I ended up with a dental phobia.
In around 10 years and many referalls to the local dental hospital I’ve had four teeth filled under sedation and the rest of my mouth has went to pieces. Again, I was told what had to be done but not why and not how.
On one occasion I asked if I could have treatment done and then have somewhere quiet to sit and I ended up on a hospital ward so that I could lie on a bed after the procedure. Instead of a dentist and a dental nurse in the room there was a professor, a consultant dentist, a theatre nurse, an anaestetist and a dental nurse. Oh and half a dozen students popped in for a look while it was all going on. It was a ridiculous amount of money to fill two teeth.
The dental hospital doesn’t take referalls for fillings under sedation anymore so I’ve had to take myself off to a regular dentist and throw myself at his mercy. Except that’s not quite what happened.
My first visit was to sit and talk about my fears, what would happen, when it would happen and if I was happy about it. I was okay with the extraction, I wasn’t happy about the fillings but I was being consulted about what was going to happen in my mouth. It felt extraordinary to be given this level of consultation 52 years after a butcher of a dentist thought it was okay to rip half my teeth out.
I had an infection so I had to have antibiotics leading up to the extraction. The tooth pulling went well and then I developed dry socket as the clots in the tooth bed got too big and wouldn’t hold on. Now I have a dissolvable sponge in my mouth and it’s working well.
I had the fillings today. We talked about what was going to happen. I put my iPod on and he began to drill. I asked him to stop. He did. This went on for a while and each time he was patient and considerate.
While he was doing the filling I was stressed as it was a deep filling and took quite a while. I shook badly (the adrenaline in the local anaesthetic doesn’t help), cried, shook some more and when it was over I cried some more.
I stood up to go and wobbled. You know you’re not in a good way when you see _that_ amount of concern on someone’s face. I wobbled into the waiting room to sit for a while and got the same look from the receptionist. My arms were white and I couldn’t stop crying and when I did all I could say was, “I’m phobic, I’m a fucking hero for doing this.”
I am still phobic, I have to have check-ups every three months and I’ve been advised to cut right back on the sugar. I’ll have to go cold turkey on that one but it will help my teeth and I will lose weight.
So here I am, a fucking hero.